Producing Acoustic Guitar


Kevin Doyle


Your Home Studio - a basic tutorial on home recording studio setup, including building a home recording studio, digital recording techniques, computer recording information, recording software information, how to buy equipment for a home recording studio and operating an audio recording studio at home

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     The acoustic guitar is very much in style today. Crossing between folk, pop and rock genres. While the acoustic guitar remains one of the most simple instruments, it also remains one of the hardest to get a great sound on in the studio. It's really not that difficult though, if you follow a few basic  rules. It really is important to make sure that the guitar sounds as close as possible to how you want it to sound, before you bother thinking about setting a mic up. Deal with the basic things first: is this the right guitar for the job? If not, then consider borrowing another for the session, or even investing in another yourself. There are producers/engineers who buy guitars in order to get the sound they want, even though they're not really guitarists themselves, so don't rule this option out if an acoustic guitar sound is important to you in your production.


The sound you get has a great deal to do with the quality of the player. Choose an appropriate type and gauge of string for the instrument and for the kind of sound you're after and make sure that the guitar's action is set up correctly so that it plays without buzzing. There are many different types of steel-cored wound string, all of which have subtly different properties. The most commonly used types on acoustic guitars are bronze, phosphor bronze and nickel wound. An instrument with lighter gauge strings (perhaps an 11 to 50 set) will generally be easier to play, but the sound will be thinner and low in volume. On the other hand, very heavy strings (perhaps a set beginning with a 15-gauge top E) can sometimes sound tubby and lacking in overtones on the wound strings. The best compromise is usually the heaviest set of strings that are still comfortable enough for the guitarist to play. Usually starting with medium gauge strings will give you a decent sound.


If the guitarist is using a pick, it is always worth trying one of a different thickness --generally, thin ones work best for 12 strings or performances that require a lot of strumming. A heavier pick will produce more volume and more tone from the guitar. When playing solo lines try to always use a medium to heavy gauge pick to allow the performance to have more dynamics-a light pick will give you only so much volume. At times I have asked the player to go home and practice with a heavier pick and record the part later when they are comfortable playing with this new set-up


The sound of acoustic guitar recordings can depend a great deal on the environment in which the instrument is played. Acoustic guitars thrive in a semi-live acoustical environment. While artificial reverb can be used to liven up the sound of a dead room, getting good natural acoustic always produces better results, even if you want to add reverb later. Dead rooms tend to choke the sound of the guitar and player will often over compensate by playing louder than they should.


The size of the acoustic guitar has a lot to do with the frequency range that it projects. The bigger the guitar, the more low-end it’ll provide. These guitars are most effective with strumming chords in the open position. These “jumbo” guitars are normally strum with medium to heavy gauge strings that are capable of producing more resonance due to the larger amount of wood that will resonate sympathetically. A medium size guitar will sound tighter and project the sound quickly, which makes it great for soloing.


There is also the nylon-string guitar or better known as the classical guitar where the top three strings are nylon. This type of guitar produces a mellow and a very harmonically even sound. It obviously does not contain the same amount of mid-range and high frequencies that steel-string guitars have. Nylon guitars are becoming more popular in pop music due to their capability to produce harmonic content in a frequency range that will not affect the lead vocal. A great example of this is in the music of Sting. In a song like Fragile the nylon guitar can be mixed tighter to the lead vocal for it is not encroaching in the presence frequency range of the lead vocal. If Sting were to use a steel-string instead, he would have to lower the overall level of the guitar because of the high frequency encroachment produced by the steel-string guitar in comparison to the lead vocal. That would lower the musical harmonic content of the guitar whereby it would separate the vocal melody from the harmonic accompaniment provided by the guitar.


The 12-string guitar is the grand piano of the guitar family. Usually played in a strumming fashion with a pick and chords in open positions. The 12-string guitar works most effectively by itself or with little accompaniment for it takes up a lot of the frequency and musical range. If you already have a basic 6-string performance and you feel you need a brighter guitar in addition try changing the 3 low strings with lighter gauge and tune them up an octave (Nashville tuning). Try to avoid capos’, because they tend to choke the sound of the guitar. If the guitarist is using a pick, it is always worth trying one of a different thickness. With strumming you will tend to get a more even sound with a medium to light gauge pick. With soloing a thick or medium gauge pick works best for incorporating dynamics.


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